Polish Fans Unite in Protest

Editor’s note: It’s not every day a Wisla Krakow supporter writes to Pitch Invasion reporting of a burgeoning fans’ protest in Poland that all started with a perceived injustice done to ultras of their bitter rivals, Lech Poznan. But a writer under the pseudonym of “South Pole” has contributed the below tale of growing demands for cooperation from the authorities to assure fair treatment of ultras groups across the league, who provide the renowned colour at Polish league (Ekstraklasa) games we’ve often featured here.

All the stadiums stand empty, with a boycott of the league cup and a huge banner hung in front of the league’s headquarters reminding Polish football authorities of a nationwide protest going on for the last few weeks.

When it all started, no one thought it could end up this way. Lech Poznan fans set-off almost two thousand pyrotechnics in Lubin. Four thousand supporters from Poznan went to that game, a number seen once in a blue moon. Flares, flags and constant chanting gave the game a considerable reputation in the Polish media with journalists and commentators all enthusiastic towards the fanatic, yet civilized, ultras performance.

Yet the performance earned Lech supporters a one away game ban and a significant financial fine for the club — a fine similar to those applied for hooliganism.

Lech’s fan association, Wiara Lecha, decided to withdraw from the “Orange Fair Play” competition for best fans run by the league sponsor, mobile giant Orange. It’s worth mentioning that Lech fans won last year’s edition and were favorites for a second win in a row. An official statement from the association said that it would be hypocrisy for the fans to participate in a competition for best performances if they are punished for them in the end. Furthermore, they also stressed that the league sponsor has no right to use images of the ultras’ shows, as it’s intellectual property of the group.

Not long after that, the players of Lech issued their own statement supporting their fans. The response of the league authorities was yet another statement that shows like this discourage sponsors from investing in Polish football. Most surprisingly, all of Lech’s biggest sponsors decided to take a stand, stating that fans were one of their criteria for supporting Lech. One statement after another, and soon supporters of seven other clubs had pulled out of the Orange Fair Play contest.

Below, Lech fans protest with thousands of sparklers (Poznan, August 24, 2007)

And for the first time, some other club authorities were behind their fans, expressing their full support for their actions. But league authorities didn’t react in a way the fans desired. This is why banners encouraging negotiations appeared in almost all grounds of the Ekstraklasa, urging the authorities to “Stop punishing, start talking”. Yet they had no significant impact.

Last weekend fans took a big step further. During each game, after the 35th minute, they started taking down all flags, stopping all support and leaving the stands. No matter if it was a 4,000 crowd in Wodzislaw or 23,000 in Poznan. The stands were left almost empty, with just banners saying “Is this what you want?” left among the seats. After half-time, it was back to normal.

Below, the banner reads “Stop punishing, start negotiating” (Wisła Kraków – Lech Poznanń, September 1, 2007)
Stop punishing, start negotiating

This, however, is only one of the elements of the protest. The recently reintroduced league cup has been boycotted — no organized support, nobody going to the away games, no ultras performances. In fact, fans are discouraged to go to games of the cup, which already had an appalling attendance. The message — it’s the fans that give color to Polish football. A huge banner with this message and a strong slogan, “No fans, no cash, no Ekstraklasa” has been hung right in front of the league’s headquarters in Warsaw.

Is it all about some flares? Even if it was, it has grown to a nationwide campaign with support and understanding in the media. The National Fans Associations Union (OZKS) now demands cooperation from the league authorities. That includes negotiations over punishments for different actions (especially decreasing penalties for “safe pyrotechnics use”– without throwing them onto the pitch, of course), a common policy for away games, appeal procedures in case of penalties and many further demands.

The fans’ protest can be condensed simply to the words: “Nothing about us without us”.

Photos courtesy of mcvalec and Mi…

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